New Hampshire is known for its tough trails and strenuous summits. Mt Washington and the other Presidents dominate the landscape, so it’s entirely feasible that one may forget about the other great sites that New Hampshire has to offer. In addition to the many arduous 4000 ft peaks, there are some worthwhile hikes that offer an alternative to exposed ridges and mountain summits. You can find a more peaceful approach to New Hampshire’s trails. These hikes are for those who want to slow down and take it easy but still enjoy the stunning vistas and forests of this beautiful state.
The Appalachian trail has 161 miles that run though New Hampshire so you don’t have to look far to get on a section and hike your heart out. If you love outdoor adventure, chances are that New Hampshire is high on you bucket list (and if it’s not, I suggest it should be). Even if mountain peaks seem out of reach for you, let the diverse landscape and extensive network of trails in New Hampshire lead you to a special spot; one where you don’t have to be a hard-core, mountain climbing hiker to enjoy.
On my last trip to New Hampshire, while waiting on good weather for a summit hike to the Franconia Ridge Trail, I had a chance to explore some shorter trails near my campground in Franconia Notch State Park. This is one area I would recommend everyone stop and explore; even if just to stretch your legs with a short hike if you are only passing through. The park has high mountain summits, stunning lakes, gorges, forest and rock faces all within reach, including a huge network of trails for all energy and skill levels.
I found two easy (by NH standards) trails which can be done separately, or as a slightly longer continuous hike. These are located in the Franconia Notch State Park area. One circumnavigates a lonely mountain lake, the other follows a babbling brook to a series of stunning waterfalls. Lonesome Lake and the Basin Cascades Trail are two great alternatives to typical NH summit hikes. Each is unique and serene in their own way. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the hike and a slice of New Hampshire paradise.
1. LONESOME LAKE
Where: Franconia Notch State Park
Access: Lafayette Place Campground
Distance: 3.25 Miles
Effort: Moderate – a section of uphill climb on switchbacks.
Awesomeness Factor: Great views of the Franconia ridge, Cannon Mountain, AMC Hut, Lake views
This is a moderate effort, well-marked and well maintained trail that has great payout for effort. It’s no surprise why this is one of the more popular hikes in the area. I would consider this a family friendly hike; totally manageable for kids and those who find mountain hiking intimidating but like to get their heart pumping a bit. After a short climb uphill via long, gradual switchbacks, a trail around the lake offers easy hiking and provides great views of the ridge line. Mt Lafayette stands watching over the lake and Cannon mountain sits to the side.
The trail around lake is mostly wooden planks over the bog. If you wish to make this an overnight, reserve ahead for the Lonesome Lake AMC hut. A small fee for a million dollar view and a hot meal to boot. I recommend stopping near a clearing by the AMC hut for a snack or picnic lunch overlooking the lake and taking in the views. Another thing I love about this trail? The only way to get there is by foot. Even the supplies for the Hut are hiked in.
Near the AMC Hut, the marked trail gives you options to expand your hike further if you wish. You can hike the Kinsman Ridge Trail, or pick up the AT-Cascade Brook trail to the Basin-Cascade Trail (see maps below). I did these two hikes separately on different days but they can surely be done as a longer day adventure. Either way is still enjoyable. Do what suits the mood and the day.
2. The Basin Cascade – Cascade Brook Loop
Where: Franconia Notch State Park
Access: Basin trailhead – I-93
Distance: 2.7 miles
Effort: Easy – Trail requires some careful footing around rocks, wet spot and roots.
Awesomeness Factor: Waterfalls galore. Wilderness forest walking.
Start in the Basin trailhead parking lot, this trail can be done as a loop if you take the Pemi Trail for 0.7 miles from the basin, pick up the Cascade Brook trail for 1.2 miles and loop back to the basin via the Basin-Cascade Trail (see maps below). For a shorter option, you can do the 1.6 mile out and back of the Basin-Cascade trail only. As I indicated before, this trail system will lead to Lonesome lake and beyond if you wish to make this a longer day hike or overnight.
If you start at the basin and aren’t overly impressed, keep hiking. Pass the crowds and hold out for better things farther up the trail. Those who get off of the paved path and away from the crowd are in for more impressive water features. All of the trails are blazed, worn and well-marked here so it’s very hard to veer off the trail if you have a basic map and an idea of where you want to go.
The gem of this trail is certainly the Basin-Cascade section and would be spectacular in fall in full colors. Kinsman and Rocky Glen falls are worth stopping at for a snack and some photos. The basin cascade trail hugs the brook in the lower section around the cascade falls area, allowing you to venture off of the path and get the perfect angle to photograph the water pouring over the giant slabs of rock. Rocky Glen Falls were by far my favorite of the trail. Nestled inside of a rocky crag, sun shining through the trees and powerfully plowing down the rocks.
As I sat next to the water and listened quietly to its music, I thought of sign I once saw in a gift shop which seemed to make sense to me in this moment. It is summarized beautifully so I will leave you with that:
Advice from a Waterfall
Go with the flow
Roar with excitement
Let your cares fall away
Create your own music
Immerse yourself in nature
Make a splash !
– Ilan Shamir